Empathetic Ladders and What People Can Understand — Matching Knowledge Structures for Messaging (Part I)


Rainier Rapids, Main Salmon River, Idaho

Empathetic ladders are fun to find — enlightened leadership has been using them since the beginning of time.  I’m sure, if we could find some sequence of caveman paintings on the wall in some cave somewhere and looked with that in mind, we could find an empathetic ladder with lots of wooly mammoths and dudes with spears running around, painted by the local mensch attempting to get his or her tribe to up their game.

At the same time, any person who’s trying to grow has been stuck in a meeting with a leader who insists that everyone has a chance for ‘input’, while doing a seemingly endless round-robin around the room, with the same people saying nothing, and the same people doing some weird humble-brag about their area of interest.  Communitarian on the surface, but eh — not so much.  Really just the same authoritarian assertion of status.

And after a while, you might find yourself, with certain empathetic ladders, picking them apart.  What do they really mean, after all?  Your own level of sophistication will start to pick apart these kinds of things.  And I think there’s few people that really like those pithy sayings on the bottom of motivational posters.  In fact, I’m sure most of you have seen these anti-motivational posters, with the same beautiful picture, but tagged with an ironic punchline, like this one:


Since I’m writing this blog with the intent of turning it into a book, there’s also a natural tendency to want to list quick ‘how-tos’ Internet-able memes.  These would inevitably be used to torture workers in as-yet inconceivable ways by the percentage of psychopaths who buy business books.

At the same time, there ought to be a way to discern between sound-bites of pithy wisdom, and things that can revolutionize cultures and societies.  That’s where understanding what knowledge structures are used by the evolving v-Memes come into play.  One of the next big concepts in this blog is the idea that social structures create design structures — Conway’s Law.  And the breakthrough concept that comes out of that is that in between social structure and design structure is knowledge structure.  I have named this principle The Intermediate Corollary. And it starts the process of unlocking the idea that social/relational structure, all dependent on empathetic level, creates different ways of thinking for people in those social  structures.  


I’ve found that this concept is very difficult for people to grasp.  There’s a part of our fundamental humanity that wants to believe that even though there may be different cultures, or surface level structures, that all humans process information the same — same organic matter in between the ears, after all.

But that’s a pretty hardware-oriented view of the brain.  Every day, we are reminded that we don’t all think the same.  This worldview discounts the role of software in the brain — that programming the brain is not just assembling surface level knowledge.  As we move through life, our brains actually function differently.  And the strand that runs through all of that is empathetic development, and the social structures we operate in.

Takeaways:  Conway’s Law says that social structure produces design structure.  In order to produce a design, though, we first have to produce the knowledge.  That concept — The Intermediate Corollary — directly implies that different social structures will produce different knowledge structures — and that means that different people in different social structures will fundamentally think differently.

All this links back to empathetic ladders.  The next thing I’ll discuss is how we can identify the knowledge structure of our empathetic ladders, so we can get down to real ‘guiding principle’ evolution, instead of just one more annoying motivational poster.

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